Monday 7 October 2019 5:28 am

How to avoid friction when working in a small team

Hannah Rhodes is founder of Hiver Beers.

Small businesses are often accompanied by an intense working environment, where space is at a premium and the day-to-day proximity between colleagues can inevitably cause friction.  

As a business owner, I’ve found that  big issues often arise from seemingly little problems. But don’t write off small businesses just yet. With a little ingenuity, flexibility, and common sense, these can be overcome to create an appealing office environment.

Know your environment 

When there are only a few people to bounce off, and everyone has different roles and responsibilities, it quickly becomes clear when someone isn’t pulling their weight or is falling behind. Each day is busy, and can be stressful. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. 

So make it clear upfront that everyone will have to get their hands dirty in order to make the business work.  

Bigger isn’t always better 

Employees who have come from larger businesses can sometimes feel very exposed in a smaller office environment. 

They can get defensive when it becomes obvious that they have been used to others doing the work, they might not be used to the pace, or may lack the confidence to be a self-starter.  

This attitude needs to be trained out early, but be considerate and understand that they are adjusting to life in a smaller pond. Take the time to work with them to develop a new approach.  

Shared space 

In a close working environment, you soon learn every aspect of someone’s personality. There’s no opportunity to go to another team across the room or on a separate floor – they don’t exist. 

So you need to work extra hard not to rub each other up the wrong way, both professionally and personally. 

It’s good to take a step back and think before you speak to your colleague or send that internal email. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes, and envisage their reaction. This considered approach can prevent unnecessary flare-ups from misinterpreting  a message. 

Equal exposure 

An employee’s strengths and weaknesses are quickly laid bare for all to see. This could be as simple as consistently being 10 minutes late, or not being as productive as they should be.  

I’m amazed at the naivety I have witnessed through the years, as if the boss is unaware of these small but important details. Anyone who runs a small business will agree with me here – we are constantly measuring individual staff performance against the performance of the wider team. 

Tidiness is a virtue 

Working in a small space requires consideration for others when it comes to tidiness. 

When writing this article, I asked my staff for  their perspective on this. One highlighted the unisex loo – an unfortunate necessity, depending on your work premises. It means that you sometimes have to overcome a number of personal hang-ups to get through the day.  The shared kitchen is also a challenge – everyone seems to have a different standard of cleanliness, and some must think that there’s a “daily cleaning fairy”.  

Bosses understand that everyone is busy, but there is little excuse for leaving a bathroom or a kitchen that looks like a bombsite by the end of the day.  

Sing when you’re winning 

Our sales director recently highlighted that we were not good at celebrating wins. This can be tricky, as we work at a fast pace – as soon as one thing is finished, there is still lots more left to do.  

With this in mind, it’s crucial to take time to celebrate and recognise team and individual achievements, so staff remain engaged and motivated.

A small business can be intense, but when you get it right, it can be magic. 

Main image credit: Getty